June 5, 2010
According to Catholic teachings, one of the aims of a social action is that it contribute to the common good. The Virtue of Solidarity* and the Principle of Subsidiarity** play an important role in the attainment of that aim. Both focus around the issue of empowering communities to exercise proper governance. As general guidelines, they provide a basis for examining the activities of a community. This coming Tuesday provides a good opportunity to utilize these two guiding principles, in particular in reference to Proposition 16. It is my opinion that Proposition 16 , under the guise of empowering voters, actually does the opposite—and as such, does not meet up to Solidarity and Subsidiarity.
We Americans love competition in both our marketplace and in our politics. In the marketplace the more businesses there are competing for our patronage, the more likely we will get both a better deal and a higher quality product. In politics, the more candidates fighting for our vote, the greater the opportunity for us to find one who may lead our community according to the values we hold. And due to the possibility that we may not vote for them in the next election, they tend to be accountable to us. This is especially true if we are dealing with local politicians. Though I am being simplistic, a good case can be made for saying that our present social system empowers us by means of both our dollars and our votes. Unfortunately, Proposition 16 detracts from our ability to shape the energy market and undermines a local community’s ability to determine its governance.
Prop 16 would set up a huge roadblock to a local community’s ability to efficiently exercise its legislative decision-making process. When it comes to questions of energy, Prop 16 would require a special local election to take place in order for local governments to move forward with any energy-related decision. Any such decision would require a 2/3 majority to be enacted.
Presently, California state law permits local governments to determine what may be the best means by which the community may get its energy. Thus, via their elected officials, local communities have the power to select how tax dollars may be best used to provide the energy needs of its residents. Given the fact that there now exist many new small business in the expanding energy market, all competing for business , local communities have the option of not merely dealing with traditionally dominant corporate energy providers like PG & E. Thus, present state law has provided an opportunity for local governments to reap the benefits of a competitive market, and if they so deem, participate in such a market. Prop 16 however seeks to inhibit the exercise of this opportunity.
Proposition 16, under the illusion of helping citizens exercise their voting rights, actually serves as a means by which corporate-energy-providers can limit the power of local governments to efficiently select from the many new energy business modals which may best serve their communities. If Prop 16 passes, the ability of citizens to empower their elected representatives to make the best choices for the community is hampered. Thus the ability of a community to explore new sources of energy will be greatly curtailed. Since many local communities are presently dependent on major corporate-energy-providers, the passing of Prop 16 undermines competition and assures that the status quo is maintained: tax money continuing to flow to the presently dominant corporations.
In light of the Supreme Court’s recent decision enabling corporations to funnel unlimited funds into election campaigns, if Prop 16 passes, odds are that the power presently residing in local governments will be impeded and be shifted to the well-funded corporations. Let us remember that under Prop 16, any change in funding must be approved by a 2/3 majority vote. Even in the best and fairest conditions, it is very difficult for a local initiative to receive a 2/3 majority support. What are the chances that a corporation like PG & E will stand by and not interfere with a local election while its citizens are considering not purchasing energy from them, but instead another energy provider? Just looking at the 34 million dollars PG & E has funneled into undermining local governments in this present election should serve as an indicator of future involvement.
Forgive my skepticism, but in light of the recent catastrophic oil spill caused by drilling by a major oil corporation, do Californians really believe that a major energy corporation, in particular PG&E, is more concerned about the needs of a local community, than those individuals elected from that community who are directly accountable to the community? It seems to me that citizens have a greater chance of replacing a local politician who does not serve the community, than a corporation’s CEO. We have greater control over those we locally elect than we do over a well-funded corporate entity. Prop 16 set up a state practice which interferes in the internal life of a community depriving it of its ability to efficiently shape its future. Voters should take a closer look at Proposition 16 before they enter the voting booth this Tuesday.
*Virtue of Solidarity: The means by which a “society ensures social justice by providing the conditions that allow associations and individuals to obtain their due.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1943).
**Principle of Subsidiarity: The principle by which “a community of a higher order (e.g. a state) should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order (e.g. a local government) depriving it of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co-ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.” (Catechism of the Catholic Church #1883)
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